The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● House: Several outgoing House members from each party are showing at least some openness in trying to return to the lower chamber or run for a different office, though some soon-to-be-former representatives have already closed the door on a comeback. We'll start with a look at the Democrats and Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, who isn't dismissing talk about challenging Republican Rep.-elect John James in the 10th District.
"I'm definitely not shutting the door to running for office again, whether for Congress or something else," Levin told Politico's Ally Mutnick. This year the congressman turned down his party's pleas to run in the 10th, a suburban Detroit seat that Trump took by a tiny 50-49 margin and where Levin already represented two-thirds of the residents, and instead campaigned for the safely blue 11th. That was a bad decision for both him and for national Democrats: Levin ended up losing his primary to fellow Rep. Haley Stevens 60-40, while James beat Democrat Carl Marlinga just 48.8-48.3 a few months later in a race that Democratic outside groups spent nothing on.
Mutnick also relays that unnamed Democrats are urging New York Rep. Tom Suozzi to challenge Republican Rep.-elect George Santos in the 3rd District. There's no word, though, if Suozzi is interested in trying to regain the constituency he gave up to wage a disastrous primary bid against Gov. Kathy Hochul. While Biden prevailed 54-45 here, the GOP's strong performance on Long Island last month helped power Santos, who lost to Suozzi in 2020 and later attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, to a 54-46 win over Democrat Robert Zimmerman.
Another outgoing New York congressman, Mondaire Jones, also responded to questions about his future by telling Bloomberg, "I'm not closing the door to anything, other than doing nothing, these next two years … I'm always going to be fighting for the communities that I represent, even if I'm not formally their elected in the United States Congress these next two years."
Jones, though, did not elaborate on if he has a specific office in mind or where he'd run. Jones, who represents the Hudson Valley, decided to run in New York City in order to avoid a primary against DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney: Jones ended up taking third place in the 10th District primary won by Dan Goldman, while Maloney lost his general election to Republican Mike Lawler.
But New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires, who was not on the ballot anywhere this year, has made it clear he wants to run for a very different sort of office in May 2023. While Sires says he won't make an announcement until his term ends in early January, the congressman has said he's looking at a bid for mayor of West New York, which is the job he held from 1995 until he joined Congress in 2006; the New Jersey Globe reports that he'll enter the contest sometime next month.
However, there's no direct vote at the ballot box to determine who gets to succeed retiring Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez, a fellow Democrat who will likely campaign for the state Assembly next year, as leader of this 52,000-person community. Candidates will instead run on one nonpartisan ballot for a spot on the five-person Town Commission, and the winners will select one of their members for mayor. Anyone who wants the top job, though, will lead a slate of allied commission candidates, something that Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo has already put together.
We've also previously written about a few other departing House Democrats who may run for something in 2024. New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski hasn't ruled out another campaign against GOP Rep.-elect Tom Kean Jr. in the 7th, while retiring Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy likewise hasn't dismissed talk she could take on Republican Sen. Rick Scott. There's also been some chatter that Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, who lost his primary for Senate, could campaign for attorney general, though he hasn't said anything publicly about the idea.
There is one Democrat who has already closed the door on a comeback, though. Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, who refused to back Jamie McLeod-Skinner after she beat him in their primary, dismissed talk he could go up against GOP Rep.-elect Lori Chavez-DeRemer by telling Mutnick, "I've been there, done that—time for a young American to step up." Characteristically, the Blue Dog Democrat added, "It can't be a far-lefty. It has to be someone that cares about rural America."
We'll turn to the Republicans, where another Michigan congressman is keeping his options open after a primary defeat. When Politico asked if he was thinking about trying to regain the 3rd District, Rep. Peter Meijer responded, "I'm thinking about a lot of things." Meijer narrowly lost renomination to far-right foe John Gibbs after voting to impeach Donald Trump, while Democrat Hillary Scholten went on to defeat Gibbs in the fall.
Mutnick writes that another pro-impeachment Republican whom the base rejected, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, is also considering a bid to get back her own 3rd District against Democratic Rep.-elect Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez. Extremist Joe Kent kept Herrera Beutler from advancing past the top-two primary, but he failed to defend the constituency against Gluesenkamp Pérez.
One member who could run for local office in 2023 is New York Rep. Chris Jacobs, a Republican who in October didn't rule out the idea that he could challenge Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a Democrat, in next year's general election. Jacobs instead put out a statement saying he would "always give serious consideration to any opportunity to serve" the Buffalo area. The congressman decided not to seek a second full term to avoid a tough primary over his newfound support for an assault weapons ban and related gun safety measures in the wake of recent mass shootings, including one in Buffalo.
There are also a few other outgoing Republicans who previously have been talked about as contenders in 2024. The most serious appears to be New Mexico's Yvette Herrell, who filed new paperwork with the FEC for a potential rematch against Democrat Rep.-elect Gabe Vasquez; Herrell soon told supporters she was considering, though she didn't commit to anything.
Retiring Indiana Rep. Trey Hollingsworth also hasn't ruled out a Senate or gubernatorial bid, though Sen. Mike Braun was recently overheard saying that Hollingsworth would instead support him for governor. (See our IN-Gov item.) There's been some speculation as well that Lee Zeldin, who was the GOP's nominee for governor of New York, could run next year for Suffolk County executive, though Zeldin hasn't shown any obvious interest.
One person we won't be seeing more of, however, is Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot. While Chabot regained his seat in 2010 two years after losing re-election to Democrat Steve Driehaus, the congressman told Spectrum News last week that he wouldn't try the same maneuver against Democratic Rep.-elect Greg Landsman. "I was 26-years-old when I first ran for Cincinnati City Council. When this term ends in January, I'll be turning 70 in January," Chabot explained, adding, "Twenty-six to 70, that's long enough. It's somebody else's turn."
● What better way to wrap up the year than by previewing the biggest contests of 2023 on this week's episode of The Downballot? Progressives will want to focus on a Jan. 10 special election for the Virginia state Senate that would allow them to expand their skinny majority; the April 4 battle for the Wisconsin Supreme Court that could let progressives take control from conservatives; Chicago's mayoral race; gubernatorial contests in Kentucky and Louisiana; and much, much more.
Of course, we might've thought we were done with 2022 after Georgia, but Kyrsten Sinema decided to make herself the center of attention again. However, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard explain why there's much less than meets the eye to her decision to become an independent: She can't take away the Democratic majority in the Senate, and her chances at winning re-election are really poor. In fact, there's good reason to believe she'd hurt Republicans more in a three-way race. The Davids also discuss the upcoming special election for Virginia's dark blue 4th Congressional District, where the key battle for the Democratic nomination will take place in less than a week.
Thank you to all our listeners for supporting The Downballot in our inaugural year. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show, and you'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time. We'll be taking a break for the holidays, but we'll be back on Jan. 5 with a brand new episode.
● IN-Gov: While retiring Rep. Trey Hollingsworth has hinted that he's interested in campaigning for governor, one would-be Republican primary rival is going around saying he'll instead have the congressman's support. Politico's Adam Wren overheard Sen. Mike Braun on Tuesday night telling other Hoosier State notables, "Trey is gonna support me. I had a conversation with him first." While there's also been talk that Hollingsworth could run for the Senate, Braun also said he might give him a place in his administration should he win.
● KY-Gov: The biggest question looming over next year's Republican primary is whether former Gov. Matt Bevin gets in before filing closes on Jan. 6, and at least one would-be rival believes the answer will be yes. State Auditor Mike Harmon, who was the first notable candidate to launch a bid against Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear, tells the Lexington Herald Leader he's 90-to-95% sure Bevin runs, explaining, "Multiple times I've heard people say he's polling."
Harmon continued, "I can't say for sure 'oh, yes, he's getting in.' But I've had some conversations with different people and it's my belief he's going to." We could be in suspense for a while longer: Bevin in 2015 launched his ultimately successful bid on the very last day possible, and he only kicked off his failed 2019 re-election campaign days before the deadline.
If Bevin does dive in, he would be joining a crowded contest where it takes just a simple plurality to win the nomination. There's no obvious frontrunner, but there are arguably two candidates who may qualify for that distinction: Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has Donald Trump's endorsement, and self-funder Kelly Craft, who is Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations. In addition to Harmon the field also includes state Rep. Savannah Maddox, who is an ally of Rep. Thomas Massie; state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.
There was some speculation that the legislature could pass a bill to require primary candidates win at least 40% to avoid a runoff, which was the law until 2008, but key lawmakers tell the Herald Leader there's no real energy behind this idea. "We did not talk about it at the (House GOP caucus) retreat, and I'm the chairman of [the] elections committee," said state Rep. Kevin Bratcher.
● LA-Gov: Attorney General Jeff Landry on Wednesday unveiled an endorsement from Rep. Clay Higgins, a fellow far-right politician with a base in Acadiana, for next year's all-party primary. Higgins is the first member of the state's congressional delegation to take sides as everyone waits to see if another Republican, Sen. John Kennedy, enters the contest next month. Another one of his colleagues, Rep. Garret Graves, also has been considering running for governor, though he hasn't shown much obvious interest since he learned he'd be in the majority.
● AZ-02: Outgoing Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who lost re-election last month to opponent Buu Nygren 53-47, is not ruling out seeking the Democratic nomination to go up against Republican Rep.-elect Eli Crane, though Nez acknowledged a bid would be tough. "Of course, you keep your options open, you never say no to anything," he told Source NM before adding, "I hate to say it, but it's going to be very difficult for any Democrat to run for that position."
Trump carried this sprawling Northeastern Arizona seat 53-45, and Crane ousted Democratic incumbent Tom O'Halleran 54-46 in November. According to Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, Republican Blake Masters also beat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly 51-47 here even as he was losing statewide by an identical margin.
● VA-04: Sen. Tim Kaine has endorsed state Sen. Jennifer McClellan ahead of Tuesday's firehouse primary to select the Democratic nominee to succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin.
The short contest leaves candidates essentially no time to raise the money they'd need to run TV ads, but another Democratic contender, Del. Lamont Bagby, is taking to radio to emphasize his own endorsements. Bagby's commercial features testimonials from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Henrico County Supervisor Tyrone Nelson, who praise his record in the legislature and tout him as a worthy successor to McEachin.
Stoney also informs listeners, "Voting is at a special location, not your normal polling place," and advises them to go to Bagby's site to find out where to cast their ballot.
● House: Politico's Ally Mutnick takes a detailed early look at the 2024 House battlefield and what candidates could end up running for key seats. For the Republicans, many of the names are familiar ones from the 2022 cycle. Mutnick relays that some strategists want a pair of defeated Senate nominees, Colorado's Joe O'Dea and Washington's Tiffany Smiley, to run for competitive House seats.
The only realistic target for O'Dea would be the 8th District, where Democratic Rep.-elect Yadira Caraveo pulled off a tough win, but Smiley is harder to place: She lives in Richland in the south-central part of Washington, which is located in GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse's 4th District and is at least a two hour drive from either the Democratic-held 3rd or 8th.
The Republican wishlist also includes a few candidates who lost House primaries this year to some disastrous nominees. One prospective repeat contender is Ohio state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, whose bid to challenge longtime Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in the 9th ended with her taking third to QAnon ally J.R. Majewski. Kaptur beat Majewski 57-43 after national Republicans gave up on him, but the GOP's victories in this year's state Supreme Court contest could allow Gavarone and her colleagues to draw up a more favorable map for the state senator should she try again.
Another potential repeat is Keene Mayor George Hansel, a self-declared "pro-choice" candidate who wanted to take on Democratic incumbent Annie Kuster in New Hampshire's 2nd District. National Democrats very much didn't want that happening, though, as they ran ads promoting Hansel's underfunded opponent, former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns. The strategy worked as intended: Burns won the nomination 33-30, while Kuster defeated him 56-44 two months later.
Mutnick also writes that some Republicans are hoping to see another try from Derrick Anderson, a Green Beret veteran who wanted to challenge Rep. Abigail Spanberger in Virginia's 7th but lost the primary 29-24 to Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega. Democrats went on to focus on Vega's far-right views, including her comments falsely suggesting that it's unlikely for rape to result in pregnancy, and Spanberger prevailed 52-48.
Republicans have their eyes on a few Republicans who didn't run for Congress in 2022, too. Mutnick says that one possible recruit against Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee in Michigan's 8th is state Rep.-elect Bill Schuette, who is the son and namesake of the GOP's 2018 nominee for governor.
And while the GOP will soon be able to gerrymander North Carolina's new congressional map, Mutnick writes that some Republicans would prefer state Rep. Erin Paré go up against Democrat Wiley Nickel in the 13th rather than see another campaign by Bo Hines. Indeed, Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw trashed both Hines and Karoline Leavitt, who failed to win New Hampshire's 1st, when he told Politico, "We lost races we easily should have won. We elected two 25-year-olds to be our nominees. That's batshit crazy."
Democrats, meanwhile, have a few 2022 nominees they would like to run again:
- AZ-01: Jevin Hodge
- AZ-06: Kirsten Engel
- CA-41: Will Rollins
- CA-45: Jay Chen
There is no word from any of the once and potentially future candidates from either party about their 2024 plans.
● PA State House: Allegheny County election officials say they plan to hold a trio of special elections in Democratic-held state House seats on Feb. 7, declaring, "While we await action by the Court, we will move forward with preparation and other work necessary to conduct the special elections, including confirming polling locations, scheduling poll workers and other administrative work."
Democrat Joanna McClinton scheduled these three contests for early February after she was sworn in as majority leader last week, citing the fact that Democrats won 102 of the 203 state House seats on Nov. 8. Republicans, though, have filed a lawsuit arguing that she did not have the authority to do this because the GOP will have more members when the new legislature meets Jan. 3 because of those vacancies.
● VA State Senate: Democrat Aaron Rouse touts his time in the NFL and Virginia Beach roots in his opening TV ad ahead of the Jan. 10 special to succeed Republican Rep.-elect Jen Kiggans. Rouse faces Republican Kevin Adams, a Navy veteran and first-time office-seeker, in a contest that gives Democrats the chance to expand their narrow 21-19 majority in the upper chamber to a wider 22-18 advantage.
Rouse's spot opens with footage of the candidate in action as an announcer proclaims, "What a break on the football by Aaron Rouse!" The Democrat himself then appears on a football field where he talks about the Virginia Beach neighborhood he grew up in by saying, "Before I was Aaron Rouse, the NFL player… I was just Aaron, from Seatack. Mom raised us on her own."
Rouse, who now serves on the City Council, continues, "My granddad told me: I was man of the house. So I did whatever it took. Mowing lawns, pumping gas, cleaning buses." He concludes, "It's time for Richmond to get to work making life more affordable for Virginia families."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Austin, TX Mayor: Former state Sen. Kirk Watson on Tuesday narrowly regained the office he held from 1997 to 2001 by defeating state Rep. Celia Israel 50.4-49.6 in the runoff to succeed their fellow Democrat, termed-out Mayor Steve Adler. Watson will serve an abbreviated two-year term because voters last year approved a ballot measure to move mayoral elections to presidential cycles starting in 2024.
Israel overcame Watson's big spending edge on Nov. 8 to lead him 41-35 in the first round of voting, but observers speculated that his base would be more likely to turn out for the runoff. Israel did best in South and East Austin, areas that have large populations of younger and more diverse voters, while Watson performed strongly in Northwest Austin, a more affluent and whiter area that's home to more longtime residents who were around when he was last mayor.
Watson also worked to appeal to supporters of conservative Jennifer Virden, who took 18%, by emphasizing tax cuts and crime. Virden never endorsed anyone for round two, but she did fire off some tweets favorable to Watson.
The city's high housing costs were one of the main issues in this contest. Watson argued that each of the 10 City Council districts should adopt their own plans, an approach Israel compared to the old racist practice of "redlining." Watson defended his plan, though, saying that there would still be citywide standards each district would need to meet and that individual communities are "going to be able to tell us where greater density can be used." He also argued that he'd have an easier time working with GOP legislators who have long had a hostile relationship with Austin's city government.